Jackson's plan, big finish yield state title

No, it wasn't exactly a shocker, at least not according to his coach, Bob Julian Jr.

But Sam Jackson's 800 meters victory Saturday at the Class 5A state track and field meet wasn't just another strong finish by a relative unknown, either.

Jackson, an Ashland High sophomore, wrapped up his first track and field season like an old pro at Hayward Field in Eugene, sprinting past four rivals over the final 100 meters to claim the team's only state championship of 2010.

"It feels pretty awesome," Jackson said.

To fans of dramatic finishes, it looked pretty awesome, too.

Jackson, who entered the race with the second-best qualifying time, was an afterthought in sixth place with 200 meters to go, and wasn't much better off, in fifth, as he approached the final turn.

Then, the boy who played for Ashland's junior varsity tennis team last spring delivered the equivalent of a between-the-legs passing shot, zooming around the outside to set up a clear sprint that nobody in the field could come close to matching.

"With 100 to go, I felt pretty confident because I knew I was way faster than anybody else out there," he said.

He roared into third right after the final turn, then bolted past Jamin Coy of St. Helens, who led most of the way, with about 30 meters to go. The rest was pure exhilaration for AHS track fans — Hayward Field going nuts, Jackson charging on, his lead growing to two meters, four, six. He crossed the finish line 10 meters ahead of anybody else then raised his arms into the air before turning to shake hands with runner-up Jacob Maxwell of Thurston.

Jackson's time of 1 minute, 57.16 seconds was the ninth-fastest in Ashland history, not bad for a guy who was still figuring out which event to focus on only weeks before the Southern Sky Conference district meet.

"We thought he had a chance because he's really talented," Julian said, "but we were surprised because he's so young, and this was his first year in track."

So how did Jackson pull it off? Julian, who along with Jeff Olsen coaches Ashland's distance runners, said Jackson's phenomenal closing speed made it possible, but his pre-race planning also proved crucial.

Jackson's plan was to stay close enough to the lead pack to reel them in with his killer kick, but not so close as to push the pace out of his range. Swallowed up by the crowd with 200 meters to go, the strategy seemed like it might have backfired. Turns out, Jackson knew exactly what he was doing.

"He ran a really smart race," Julian said. "He listened to us as far as race strategy and keeping his head into where people were in the race. And probably the biggest thing is he has a great finish, and he put himself in position where he could use his great finish and go by everybody."

Earlier in the season Jackson may have dropped too far back, or lost patience and took off too early. He finished 14th in the Grants Pass Rotary Invitational in early may, finishing in 2:14.34.

But a little experience apparently went a long way for Jackson, who won the SSC district meet in 2:00.10 before besting that mark a week later in the biggest meet of all.

"So basically," Julian said, "this whole year has been a learning process on how to run the race and it all came together finally when it counted the most. Overall, he probably had more success in the 400 meters (during the regular season). "… But we knew, Jeff Olsen and I, that if he put things together correctly (in the 800) that he could do some big things and that's exactly what happened."

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